(Memphis, Tenn.) – Memphis police officers are violating a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlaws shooting criminal suspects in the back, according to the organizers of a July 20 protest of the deaths of the six people killed by police or who have died in police custody so far in 2012.
Following a brief press conference, protesters will form a picket line on Friday at City Hall, 125 N. Main St., from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“In 1985, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Memphis-originated case of Tennessee v. Garner that the Memphis Police Department could not fatally shoot criminal suspects unless they could prove their own lives were in danger, and the court said that it was unconstitutional for the police to shoot them in the back,” said JoNina Abron-Ervin, chair of the newly-formed Black Autonomy Federation of Memphis (BAFM), sponsor of the City Hall picket. This so-called “fleeing felon” act is still being used by Memphis police officials.
Since Feb. 10, six people have been killed by Memphis police or have died in police custody. One of them, Christian Freeman, 19, was shot to death on June 12 downtown on Beale Street. Police said Freeman threatened them with a knife. His family members said Bailey had mental health problems and that police knew this because they had encountered him in April when he was arrested for disorderly conduct.
“The Memphis Police Department has a specially trained unit of over 200 officers to handle cases involving mentally ill people,” Abron-Ervin said. “If they had been called in to talk to Christian Freeman, he might be alive today. Furthermore, if he were white, he would be with his family today.”
Freeman was black. On the same day police killed him, a white man was arrested downtown who had an open knife in his back pocket. He was also described as behaving erratically and was drunk.. The man was arrested without any use of force.
On June 27, Memphis police shot and killed Hernandez Dowdy, 36, an alleged carjacking suspect. Police say they chased Dowdy and killed him because they mistakenly thought he had a gun. No weapon was ever produced. It was later learned that the woman who owned the car that Dowdy had been accused of stealing had filed a false police report.
The other four people killed by Memphis police or who died in police custody were:
Jermie McCraven, 20, shot to death on Feb. 10. Police said McCraven was the leader of an auto theft ring and that he was shot in the back while fleeing police in a car that he stole.
William Howlett, 41, who died in police custody on March 10 after being chased and arrested by police for allegedly attacking his girlfriend. After Howlett was in custody, police said he became “unresponsive.” He was pronounced dead at the Regional Medical Center. To date, the official cause of his death has not been released.
Dewayne Bailey, 38, shot to death on May 8. According to police, Bailey was asleep in his car in a store parking lot in South Memphis. When police officers woke him up, they said Bailey got out of his car, and fought with the police. Then, police said Bailey got back in his car and started driving it, dragging a police officer. An online petition by Bailey’s family says he was shot 32 times. The details of his killing have not yet been released by police.
Lorenzo Davis, 28, who died on July 3 while in police custody. According to police, they chased and arrested Davis in his backyard for allegedly selling drugs. After he was in custody, Davis was “sweating profusely,” police said, and then allegedly collapsed. Brenda Conner, Davis’ mother, said doctors at Methodist Hospital said her son had severe head injuries, internal bleeding, and a broken leg. According to the doctors, the only drug in his system was Tylenol.
BAFM’s demands are: (1) control of the use deadly force by officers; (2) public inquests into the manner of deaths of each of the six people killed; (3). criminal prosecution of the police who have engaged in criminal misuse of force and violation of the rights of citizens; (4) total transparency in all police investigations and the production of arrest and autopsy documents to the public in each of the six cases. (5) discipline of the police by the city government, including firing of any officer or supervisor proven to have engaged in a cover-up in the six cases; and (6) automatic referral of the cases to the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Hundreds of people in Memphis protested the murder of Trayvon Martin,” Abron-Ervin said. “We cannot ignore the deaths of the people who have been killed by police here at home.”